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Cyprus Table of Contents


The Work Force and Labor Unions

Nearly 70,000 Turkish Cypriots were economically active in 1989. Unemployment was measured at about 1 percent. A shortage of skilled workers in some areas required the immigration of some foreign labor. According to government statistics, agriculture accounted for the largest share of employment, followed by government (see table 19, Appendix). These two branches of the economy accounted for just under half the work force. Some Turkish Cypriot economists have noted that both these sectors were relatively inefficient and contained some hidden unemployment. Agriculture's share of the work force had slowly declined during the 1980s, and government's share declined by a fraction. The shares of other sectors rose slowly as the economy modernized.

Turkish Cypriots enjoyed a higher standard of living than citizens of Turkey. The minimum wage, for example, was higher than on the mainland. In addition, wages rose steadily. The chronic high inflation led the government to use a cost of living adjustment (COLA) mechanism that increased all wages every three months in step with inflation. This policy limited or prevented real reductions in wages. In addition, annual merit raises were typical.

As of 1986, the last year for which figures were available, one-third of the work force was unionized, a large proportion for a developing country with a large agricultural sector. The establishment of labor unions was free from government interference. According to Articles 70 and 71 of the constitution and the Trade Unions Law, no prior permission from the state was necessary for the formation of trade unions. The only legal requirement was that a minimum of twenty persons should come together to establish a union. However, in cases in which the total number of persons active in a field was less than twenty, but more than three, a trade union could also be formed.

In the second half of the 1980s, there were two main trade union federations in the "TRNC." In addition, seventeen independent unions represented about one-third of the unionized workers. The oldest federation, the Turkish Cypriot Trade Union Federation (Kibris Türk çi Sendikalari Federasyonu--TÜRK-SEN) was founded in 1954 and by the mid-1980s had about 9,300 members belonging to fifteen unions. This federation emphasized practical issues as opposed to ideology and was a member of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the European Trade Union Confederation. It also maintained close ties with the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO). TÜRK-SEN was closely affiliated with the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions, from which it received financial and technical assistance to promote job unionism in the "TRNC."

The other major labor organization was the Revolutionary Trade Unions' Federation (Devrimci çi Sendikalari Federasyonu--DEV-Is). Founded in 1976, DEV-Is had about 4,500 members in two unions in 1986. It was a member of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) and maintained close relations with similar foreign trade unions. A strong rival to TÜRK-SEN, DEV-Is emphasized "ideological unionism" and propagated leftist political ideas. DEV-Is operated freely in the "TRNC," although its sister union in Turkey was declared illegal after the 1980 military coup (and as of 1990, despite the return to civilian rule in 1983 in Turkey, was still banned). To some observers, the freedom of DEV-Is was a clear indication that politics in the "TRNC" was not controlled by Turkish authorities, despite the obvious economic and military dependence of Turkish Cypriots on the Turkish state.

Data as of January 1991